Could family ties be the ultimate blackmailing tool? Imagine you come from a small provincial town and you’re still a year away from graduating high school. Your family is short of money, so you build castles in the sky and hope they don’t come crashing down. And one day, your prayers are heard: you win a car in a contest and all you have to do in return is act happy in a juice commercial. Easy, right? Wrong. There’s a big obstacle on the way to auto-fulfillment: your parents. They’ve taken the wheel before you even had a chance to figure out where you wanted to go.
Delia Fratila (Andreea Bosneag) is not happy. Forced to repeat the same gleeful scene in a cheesy commercial for the best part of a smouldering summer day, she grows ever glummer as the temperature rises. Her parents have already found a buyer for the trophy car and are waiting in the wings to cash in. Breaks between takes lead to increasing friction as they try to pressure Delia into authorizing the deal. Never before has parental guidance sounded so much like a sales pitch. As Delia tries to hold on to her prize, even the camera starts crowding out the “lucky” winner. Combining rich irony with familial acrimony, the film’s simple story magnifies the social tensions of a country embracing capitalism and all its shiny promises.
First-time feature director Radu Jude drew inspiration for the project from an actual incident he happened to witness while working in advertising. Employing an intentionally unglamorous aesthetic, he skilfully strips Mr. and Mrs. Fratila of their supposed good intentions, leaving just a man, a woman and a money-making scheme. Drawing uncomfortable parallels between real life and a not-so-unreal movie universe, The Happiest Girl in the World is a gleaming jewel in Romanian cinema’s no-nonsense crown. —tiff.net
Radu Jude graduated in 2003 the filmmaking department of Media University Bucharest. He worked as assistant director for feature films shot in Romania, like Amen by Costa-Gavras, Vacuums by Luke Creswell and Steve McNicholas, The Rage by Radu Muntean and The Death of Mr. Lazarescu by Cristi Puiu. —viennashorts.com
Along with second screenings of a handful of its offerings, New Directors / New Films introduces four more titles this weekend: Radu Jude's